5 Ways to Differentiate with COLOR This Year!
When I was in grad school, I was able to participate in a lot of PD with teachers who were already in the classroom. It was actually a requirement of my teacher prep program, believe it or not. We had to walk in a teacher's shoes for an entire year before going out into the world to teach in a classroom of our own. So, that meant every PD offered, staff meeting, inservice day, afternoon bus duty, parent conference, etc. etc. etc...we interns had to attend. One of the PD sessions offered about half way through the year was the opportunity to go to a different school in the district and tour three classrooms, allowing those teachers to explain their literacy station routines and activities. We had to identify if we were interested in K-2 or 3-5, so I chose K-2. (I was student-teaching 2nd grade at the time, and I just knew in my heart that I would never teach a child older than 8, forever and ever AMEN.)
I went through the first two classrooms, interested and curious, but not shaken to my core or anything. THEN, we arrived at the third classroom. It was a kindergarten teacher's room, and she started explaining her system for color-coding her differentiation. Every square inch of her room was used for some instructional purpose, and it was all color-coded so each child had access to work on their level. This whole concept was revolutionary to me. I had been observing differentiated work in the classroom I was interning in all year, but the way this teacher had simplified it (and made it adorable), with color-coding BLEW ME AWAY.
I was a total fangirl, and I took all the pictures and took all the notes. I basically thought I could borrow all of her ideas, tweak them a tiny bit for my future classroom (because I probably was going to teach 1st or 2nd grade the next year, if my future principal had any sense), and everyone would marvel at how a first year teacher was such a differentiation genius!
And then, I graduated and was offered a job. Teaching 6th grade science. And I had no idea what kind of cruel trick the universe was playing on me, but I took it because I needed a paycheck.
Then the principal had an opening for 4th grade reading, and asked if I would prefer that instead. I jumped on it...still a little nervous because it wasn't K-2, but I knew it would be closer to my level of expertise. I still found that all of the systems this kindergarten teacher had in place wouldn't work with my 50 fourth graders (I had two blocks of about 25 a piece). So, I got creative, and I came up with some awesome color-coding strategies that kept me sane throughout my first year of teaching. I ended up loving 4th grade so much, I stayed there until a 2nd grade opening was available, then took all of my color-coding supplies to a new grade!
Today, I want to share 5 of these color-coding tactics for differentiation with you!
1.) Give each student a "color".
The ultimate color-coded organizational system starts with a pocket chart, powerpoint slide, anchor chart...whatever you have, where each student's name is written in the color that represents the level of work you want them to do. Many classrooms have 3-6 small groups, which means you will need 3-6 colors. Put this on display so the kiddos can see what color their name is in during any and all small groups. If Josie's name is Blue, she will come to your table when you call the blue group, she will pull work from the blue folder, etc.
2.) Print station work on colored paper.
I have used this system with different products for many years. I love to take a simple concept: writing prompts, reading response questions, reading passages, etc, and tweak them to make them simpler or more complex for different levels of learners. Then, I print the different levels on different colored paper. The colors match the powerpoint I mentioned above! I really like this system if it's a center activity that can last for an entire year, so I'm not flying through Astrobrights, because I am on a teacher budget after all!
One year, I typed out about 40 reading response questions that met the standards for my kiddos. I printed them all on blue paper, because that was the "on level" color in my room. I went back through and made the questions more open-ended, or involved more creativity, and reprinted them on green (for my higher learners). I did the same thing with some lower-level questions and printed them on orange. I laminated each sense of responses, and hung about 10 at a time on binder rings in my room. Those 10 would last about 1 quarter of school if the kiddos were assigned to choose 1 each week. After each 9 weeks was over, I swapped out the question rings. BOOM! One differentiated, complete center finished for the year. I could focus more on the actual structure and quality of my kiddo's response, and had my mental energy freed up to notice when a kiddo needed to move to a more difficult level of questioning. I wasn't spending my weekends and evenings making this center each week, so I could actually use it to TEACH! All the praise hands, folks!
3.) Use Stickers!
Colored dot sticker, or sheets of hearts or smiley faces that come in different colors, are great for those stations that maybe need to be stored in plastic bags, binders, trays, or other methods.
In that fabulous teacher's room that I mentioned earlier, she took a tiered paper tray, and put colored dot stickers on each tier to indicate where different groups should turn work in. So, if she had different answer keys for the different work she had groups do, it was already sorted for her. Genius!
One year in 4th, I had leveled fluency work for the year in big, 3-inch binders. The binders were all white, so I put big, colored smiley face stickers on the binders to indicate which level of work was in each binder. I put them on a shelf with timers, crayons for coloring graphs, etc. Another center that was basically done for the year! I would switch out the passages with seasonal ones every once in a while, but the students only had to learn how to do the work once, and I was freed up to actually pay attention to their graphs and notice who was ready to level up!
4.) Directions in colored ink
The last year that I taught in 2nd grade, I really wanted to simplify my math centers. I knew that there were a ton of different games I could type directions for that used dice, dominos, decks of cards, etc. Rather than making a bunch of copies of new games every week, I kept the same buckets of game materials out, and typed up directions for a different game every 3-4 weeks. I typed the same directions up, but tweaked them to make the game more challenging or simpler, and changed the color of the ink. One sheet of paper would have 3-4 paragraphs on it in different colors. I would laminate it and put it in the bucket with the materials. A Race to 100 card game could be changed to Race to 20, or Race to 500. Tweak the directions, change the color, keep it in the same bucket with the decks of cards. So, as students came to play, they just had to work with another kiddo with the same colored name as themselves. So, so easy. And I found that during indoor recess, or a free choice time, that the kids gravitated towards these simple math games. They actually had time to master them, because they were out for more than one week at a time. And therefore they grew in their computation skills!
5.) Post-It Notes
Each of my kiddos always has a pad of sticky notes in their desk. The color of their post-its matches their class "color". I use the post its for their exit slips, to check out library books, reading responses during small groups, etc. So, essentially any data collection or log I organize is already color-coded for me! If students have different colors for reading or math, I give them half of a pad in each color. If they level up, I switch their colors out. Easy easy easy, friends.
If I haven't made it clear to you, yet...I am extremely interested in making center work simpler for teachers everywhere! The responsibility of preparing small group lessons, and additionally having differentiated, engaging, rigorous, purposeful center work happening around your room at the same time is daunting. It can be done, and it doesn't have to break the bank or take your weekends away to make it happen!
How do you store and organize your differentiated work in your room? Do you already use color? I want to know if you use different systems than what I've listed here! Would you use any of these ideas in your own room? Let me know!
If you want to remember these ideas later, don't forget to PIN IT!